David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Prejudice, Problem-Solving


• Tennessee Williams had a “mammy” (a black nanny) named Ozzie in his house when he was a small boy. He once called Ozzie a “n*gger,” and she walked out of the house, never to return. Although his family tried to track her down, they were unable to. Years later, when Mr. Williams became an international-class playwright, he made sure that his contracts stated that his plays could not be performed in segregated theaters.

• George M. Cohan, despite his name, was not Jewish. He once wired for reservations at a fancy hotel in Miami, but the management wired back that they catered to an exclusive clientele — meaning, no Jews allowed. Mr. Cohan wired the management, “APPARENTLY THERE HAS BEEN A MISTAKE ON BOTH SIDES. YOU THOUGHT I WAS JEWISH, AND I THOUGHT YOU WERE GENTLEMEN.”

• In the Jim Crow days, the great black comic actor Bert Williams was allowed to stay in a hotel only on condition that he use the service elevator — despite his being one of the most popular comic actors of the day. This saddened Mr. Williams a great deal. He once told Jewish comedian Eddie Cantor, “It wouldn’t be so bad, Eddie, if I didn’t still hear the applause ringing in my ears.”

• Someone once made a remark that George S. Kaufman felt insulted Jews, so Mr. Kaufman rose from his chair and — after speaking sharply to the man — said, “I am now walking away from this table, this room, and this hotel.” He then noticed Dorothy Parker, one of whose parents was Jewish, so he added, “And I hope that Mrs. Parker will walk with me — halfway.”

• African-American actor/singer Paul Robeson created a critical and popular sensation in his role as the title character in Shakespeare’s Othello, but he was sometimes forced to cancel his theatrical and musical performances — during the Jim Crow era, because of the color of his skin, he was unable to find in some cities a hotel room to stay in.


• In Miami, Florida, during a production of a murder mystery play that was set in London, England, an emergency arose that required the presence of Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz, who was in the audience. No one knew what Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz looked like, but rather than interrupt the play to make an announcement from the stage, the female lead put the news into the play. On stage, she asked, “Has Inspector Thorpe left?” Hearing from the other actor that he had left, she then said, “That’s a pity. I have a message for him from Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz. His mother-in-law’s home was broken into, and she needs to get in touch with him right away.” A moment later, Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz jumped up and left to take care of the emergency. Later, he said, “It was so smooth that it took a moment to sink in. All of a sudden it dawned on me. The play was about a murder in London, not Poland. Why would there be someone with a Polish name like mine in it?”

• Tim Hurst was an umpire who enjoyed Broadway theater. Whenever he umpired in Philadelphia, he wanted the game to end quickly so he could take a train to New York and see a Broadway show. Near the end of one game, it looked like he would make his train with time to spare because Philadelphia was leading St. Louis by 11 runs. However, since Jack Powell, the St. Louis pitcher, knew that the game was hopelessly lost, he decided to delay the game so Umpire Hurst would miss his train. Therefore, he deliberately started throwing wild pitches and walking runners. However, once Umpire Hurst realized what Mr. Powell was up to, he allowed Mr. Powell to throw only nine more pitches. No matter where Mr. Powell threw the ball — inside, outside, high, low — Umpire Hurst called the pitch a strike. After quickly completing the game, Umpire Hurst got on the train and went to New York.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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